The Heart of Vancouver Island – Nanaimo, BC
When we arrived at Living Forest Oceanside RV and Campground in Nanaimo, two local residents welcomed us to our site. They kept us company during our entire stay, not because we were the most fun people to hang out with, but only for the unlimited birdseed we offered. We settled in comfortably at our spacious forested site under tall trees with lots of privacy – loved it!
Nanaimo is the second-largest city on Vancouver Island (following Victoria), and it distinguishes itself with several nicknames including the Harbour City (must include the “u” up here), the Hub City and the Heart of the Island. These are all due to its central location on the island.
Nanaimo is nestled between the Salish Sea and Mt. Benson, providing a plethora of water and inland activities. It’s also located on the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nations people, who have called this place home since time immemorial.
With only three days to explore, our usual first stop was the visitor center. Of the nine top things to do here, we managed to score only four since it wasn’t time yet for salmon spawning and we weren’t interested in some of the other activities like bungee jumping or snorkeling with the seals.
But we were interested in “The only floating pub in Canada”, and we just had to take the short ferry ride over to Protection Island to enjoy some good seafood and local craft beer:
The pub offered great views of Nanaimo Harbour and Mount Benson. After a relaxing lunch we explored the tiny island that has no roads. Boats are the only way to get here, and golf carts are the main land transportation. Although we don’t mind roughing it a bit, this was beyond our comfort zone!
Cruising back to Nanaimo, we observed the harbour teeming with activities – including several seaplanes, commercial fishing boats, and many other watercraft both personal and of the tourist type.
After docking we strolled along the harbour walkway and stopped several times to watch the boats and floatplanes:
We could have sat there and watched the energetic harbour atmosphere for hours. We agreed Nanaimo is truly a harbour haven, but it somehow never looked overly touristy with everything running very orderly during this busy time of the year.
After a short drive north we followed a trail at Neck Point Park, a waterfront spot that happened to be at low tide during our visit. Steve patiently searched for starfish in the crevasses and found several that had attached themselves to the rocky walls:
On this trail we stumbled onto several fairy doors (or gnome doors) at the base of some trees, similar to ones we’d seen a couple of weeks before:
When Steve gets a haircut in a new town he always asks the barber about the best places to eat and where to hike, since barbers are usually great sources for local information. This time the suggestion was to consider hiking to the summit of Mt. Benson, the highest mountain in the area. Our “All Trails” app rated it as difficult, but could it be as tough as some of the mountains we’ve tackled in Colorado?
Well, the rating was for real. It was challenging, steep and mostly ascended straight up for 2.5 miles over rocks and roots! It took us almost 5 hours to complete 5.2 miles, mostly under a forest canopy:
At the summit our reward was a hazy view across the Salish Sea to Vancouver and its mountain ranges. The city of Nanaimo lay directly below us, while the inland view revealed beautiful wilderness and more nearby mountains:
We headed back down after a much-needed energy snack, and thanks to my hiking poles my knees were saved from the perils of another steep descent.
Although we may have missed a few places to explore in and around Nanaimo, the whales were calling us from Telegraph Cove…
Next up: A Whale of a Show!